Official opening of the Ceneri Base Tunnel

Press release, 04.09.2020

Bern, 04.09.2020 - Camorino, 04.09.2020 - Address by Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis on the occasion of the Inauguration Ceremony "Ceneri2020" - Check against delivery

© FDFA

Sehr geehrte Frau Bundespräsidentin Simonetta Sommaruga,
Egregio presidente del Governo ticinese Norman Gobbi,
Sehr geehrter Herr Ständeratspräsident Hans Stöckli,
Monsieur le Directeur général des CFF Vincent Ducrot,
Sehr geehrter CEO der ATG Herr Dieter Schwank,
Stimati consiglieri di Stato,
Stimati parlamentari,
Gentili signore e signori,

A vision comes true

Today, a vision comes true. A vision that was first imagined in 1947 by Carl Eduard Gruner, an engineer and traffic planner in Basel. It was Gruner who drew the first sketch of a base tunnel running through the imposing Gotthard massif.

They say you should see a doctor if you have visions. But I think visions can be healthy too, maybe because I am a doctor...

The Federal Council must have had the same idea, because in 1989, it not only recognised Gruner's vision but decided to take it further by endorsing a proposal to build base tunnels through the Gotthard, Lötschberg and Ceneri – where we are gathered today to celebrate the completion of this visionary project.

In a way, there is a touch of audacity to the determination of the Swiss to dismantle the very mountains they encircle with their mix of diverse cultures. To construct a flat railway through this Alpine massif.

Nobel Prize winner Carl Spitteler once wrote that if the Swiss had invented the Alps, they would have made them much smaller. This is because of the typical Swiss approach of bringing things that seem excessive down to size. But seeing as we did not create the Alps, there is nothing left to do but take up the challenge…

The glue that binds Switzerland

Ladies and gentlemen

AlpTransit is the glue that binds our country. And just as the Gotthard has united Switzerland, so will Ceneri unite Ticino.

The Ceneri Base Tunnel will bring us closer together, shortening the distance from Lugano to Bellinzona – even to its famous carnival, virus permitting. Competition between the lakes of Lugano and Locarno could get worse, if all you have to do is jump on a train to zip between the Lugano Jazz Festival and the Locarno Film Festival.

The AlpTransit also draws us north of the Alps. This coming and going between the north and south, which I have been experiencing for many years – first as an MP and now as federal councillor – is the very essence of our identity.

There are a number of differences between us and our compatriots: culture, language, humour, fashion. But what binds Switzerland together is its institutions: federalism, direct democracy, the system of part-time public service, neutrality, modesty and, in between all of this, a spirit of innovation, perhaps even a visionary spirit, born of the ruggedness of our surroundings.

Major railway projects that spread both fear and joy

The sense of Swissness transports itself on our railways. Indeed, it was the railways that brought industry, tourism, and a measure of prosperity to Ticino. And it was also the railways that led to our canton's full participation in the young federal state in 1882, just forty years after its founding. After the railway came the road, the motorway tunnel and, alas, the traffic jams and accidents.

But the Swiss people did not leave it at that. In 2016, they voted to build a new motorway to improve safety and because of the valuable link between Italian-speaking Switzerland and the rest of the country. And even before that, between 1992 and 1998 Swiss voters approved a multi-billion investment to transport goods by rail rather than road.

We must not forget all those who paid a heavy price for this progress. The construction of the railways at the end of the 19th century claimed many lives. There have also been victims on the AlpTransit site – fewer than in earlier times but no less devastating.  Our thoughts are with all those people today.

As with any change, the railway construction sites also generated fear. Ticino fully embraced the railway from the start,  but in the canton of Uri, when the first train arrived some people wore black armbands to symbolise the death of the Alpine trade routes where donkeys were used to transport goods.

A part of Europe

Ladies and gentlemen

Switzerland's birthplace in the heart of the Alps, in the centre of Europe, has given us many advantages. We are positioned on a transit route as rugged as it is vital, at the crossroads of diverse European cultures, between the North and the South.

Our visionary project that has been completed today highlights Switzerland's connection with the European continent, which continues to be a key source of our country's well-being. Indeed, Switzerland has been shaped by its continuous engagement with Europe and its nations, as well as with the European Union, which the majority of the continent's states have now joined.

Throughout the ups and downs of the last seven centuries, we have always taken a pragmatic approach to strengthening our identity while maintaining the openness we need for our success, for our prosperity, cultural richness and scientific wealth, and for our strengths in innovation. 

My hope is that this final piece of the high-speed line through the Alps will reinforce this understanding of our relationship with the continent surrounding us, a relationship that has a stable basis today thanks to our bilateral agreements with the European Union.

Today we reaffirm our confidence in Switzerland and in our railways, which keep the heart of our country beating and connect us to the rest of the continent – thanks to our pioneering spirit and identity.

Thank you.